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Remembering Roy Hargrove's Cuban jazz adventure

Album cover for Roy Hargrove's "Habana"
Verve/Polygram Records
Album cover for Roy Hargrove's "Habana"

Trumpeter Roy Hargrove (1969-2018) was invited to perform at the 1996 Havana Jazz Festival. Those 11 days in Cuba had a lasting influence on his music and earned him a Grammy Award for Best Latin Jazz Album.

Roy Hargrove was already a busy "young lion" on the New York music scene when he was invited to Cuba.

The Texas native was discovered by Wynton Marsalis, then studied at Berklee College of Music and at the New School in New York City. Mentored by saxophonist Bobby Watson, Hargrove released his first album in 1990, led several progressive jazz groups and was commissioned to compose a suite for the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra. Later in his career, he'd be well known for crossing musical boundaries.

Only a handful of American musicians traveled to Cuba for the Jazz Plaza Festival '96 in Havana, which had more than 15 stages in clubs, bars and outdoor venues. Hargrove's band played to a standing-room-only house at the Hotel Riviera, and spent the rest of the week attending performances and jam sessions featuring the best of Cuba's old and new talent.

Hargrove told Peter Watrous in a New York Times interview published Feb. 21, 1996: "I knew there were going to be good musicians here, but I had no idea they were going to be as good as they are. The average American jazz musician can easily get lost in it all. The rhythms here are so deep it's already left an impression on me; it has definitely changed the way I play."

When he got home, Hargrove formed his band Crisol (melting pot) with four American musicians, two Cubans and two Puerto Ricans. Their 10 performances at Italy's Umbria Jazz Festival were recorded for the Grammy-winning album "Habana."

This Saturday would have been Roy Hargrove's 53rd birthday. We'll start Saturday's Jazz Caliente with an Afro-Cuban-inspired piece written by Venezuelan guitarist Leo Quintero, the title track from Roy Hargrove's 2006 album, "Nothing Serious."

Jazz Caliente airs Saturdays at 5 p.m. The show is hosted by Robin Lloyd and produced by KNKX Public Radio.

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Originally from Detroit, Robin Lloyd has been presenting jazz, blues and Latin jazz on public radio for nearly 40 years. She's a member of the Jazz Education Network and the Jazz Journalists Association.